Multi-SKU Case Picking at a Global Apparel Company
September 22, 2023
5 min read
The apparel and footwear conglomerate is one of the largest of its kind, operating multiple leading brands spanning outdoor, activewear, and workwear. The company outfits millions of consumers around the world, supported by a large network of state-of-the-art distribution centers.
Due to the remote location of the apparel company’s regional distribution centers, staffing was an ongoing challenge. Managing a single run of receiving, packing, and storing inbound shipments required up to 15 employees—with the same level of involvement to execute the process in reverse.
With low labor availability, the building could not fully staff the physically demanding depalletizing and palletizing functions. As a direct result, the upstream sorter would often stop whenever the buffer saturated, slowing product flow and operational throughput of the entire building. This discovery led the company to seek out robotic solutions to replace human touchpoints.
The search for automated case picking solutions began with a critical requirement: the ability to achieve human parity for speed and performance. This meant their new solution needed to:
1) Low labor availability in geographic area
2) High turnover and injury rates due to heavy inventory
3) Declining throughput and inability to meet peak season volume
The facilities manager discovered Dexterity while researching warehouse robotics solutions, and soon learned that it was the only offering in the market that could meet their specified requirements, plus more. The apparel company partnered with Dexterity in their distribution center and was fully implemented within 48 hours. After 14 days in local site acceptance testing, the robot was put into production full time, running 3 shift operations.
A few key features of Dexterity’s solution stood out to the facilities and operations team.
Ability to handle random sequences
Apparel and footwear products can be challenging to store due to the varying sizes of the boxes they are packaged in. While most palletizing solutions in the market required a costly pre-sequencing step to present boxes in a specific, predetermined order, Dexterity did not require this step. Instead, the platform’s real-time packing algorithm was able to intelligently place boxes of any size arriving in random order from the conveyor to the pallet.
This meant that the apparel company could get up-and-running faster and avoid the costly and time-consuming investment of pre-sequencing.
Ability to consistently build stable pallets
Pallet stability was a critical requirement for this customer because the pallets had to be safely stored in a putaway process. To ensure boxes were stacked in compliance with safety standards, Dexterity applied dynamic bricklaying techniques for stability and even weight distribution. Today, greater than 99% of all random sequence, mixed-case pallets built by Dexterity are stable.
Easy and automated inventory tracking
The apparel company needed the ability to record incoming inventory in their warehouse management system (WMS). However, traditional methods of collecting inventory data often required manual effort to physically scan barcodes, plus time-consuming software integration work lasting up to 24 months. To bypass IT integration lead time, Dexterity was able to implement a novel solution within one month. With native barcode scanning integration and display on a UI, the solution allowed warehouse operators to preserve the same exact workflow with their existing handheld devices as they picked up completed pallets from the Dexterity system. As a result of the new process with Dexterity, they were able to save valuable time and effort.
The apparel company saw immediate value by implementing Dexterity in place of human touchpoints. Right away, the solution met their goal of increasing operational throughput at a lower cost while matching human performance parity. Warehouse employees also found the Dexterity system extremely reliable and easy to use in production. With a continuous improvement mindset, the apparel company and Dexterity also worked in partnership to establish training programs and standard operating procedures, which resulted in zero monthly service incidents once the robot was ramped into production.
Additionally, Dexterity’s performance reports and analytics shed light on a key finding: The robots could actually take on more volume than what was forecasted. Excess system capacity gave the apparel company the confidence that their storage and retrieval process can comfortably meet growing, future peak season volume.
06 Future Outlook
With the success of the initial implementation, the apparel company plans to continue expandingDexterity robots in their distribution network. The company has also identified opportunities todrive efficiency with Dexterity throughout other areas within the warehouse handling truckoperations and shipping consolidation.
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